This past weekend I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile race. This blog will give an overview of the race itself, what my nutrition and hydration consisted of, and my training leading up the race!
To start things off, I signed up for this race on January 6th, 2019. History has shown me that I like to sign up for races every year or so to continually challenge myself. Four years ago it was the Newport Marathon, two years ago it was Ironman Lake Placid, and last year it was The North Face 50k (32 mile) race. I find it interesting in retrospect that at the time I thought the marathon was tough, and after that race I was WRECKED – could barely walk the days following. Then I did the Ironman, the longest of all the races, finishing in about 14 hours, and that had my pretty sore, but not as bad. The 32 miler I thought was grueling at the time, but in hindsight, not too bad now. The 50 miler I thought was my best race yet. I felt great during the race, and was certainly sore afterwards, but not wrecked. Its more a general body fatigue than deep muscle soreness. I attribute this to improved nutrition, year after year.
What do these events tell me overall? We are capable of more than we think, and it is critical to continue to challenge yourself. Four years ago if you asked me if I would ever run a 50 mile race, my response probably would have involved a laugh. All too often we set self-imposed limits on ourselves. “I’m not a runner, I’ll never be able to do a marathon” or “I’ll never lose this body fat” …these are common statements I hear in the gym, and my question to you is … why not? Your mindset literally controls your life – what job you enjoy, or what job you tolerate; what your family life is like and who your friends are; what your income is or what you want it to be; and certainly, how fit or unhealthy you are. Now I do understand that 50 miles is quite outside the normal, but the general statement applies – why not you? Why not this year? “He who aims at nothing is sure to hit it”.
Anyhow, back to the race! The 50 mile race took place on Saturday June 8th, 2019. The race started at 5am and had a 14 hour time cap. I finished in just under 13 hours, placing 55th out of 128 that started the race. There was approximately a 30% DNF rate.
The course was … hilly to say the least. The first half of the race is located on a ski mountain!
The race started with not one, but two climbs up to the summit. Here is a quick reference of the climb up, and the elevation chart. There was over 7,000 ft of elevation gain.
After going up and down the mountain twice, we ran across the road to a state forest. This is where the trails opened up a bit, but still had some quality hills that led to some fantastic views.
From somewhere about mile 20 to mile 45, I was in my prime. I felt great – well hydrated, well fueled, and legs were doing what I wanted – running! This is where I made up a lot of ground and passed a lot of fellow athletes.
People ask – “What do you listen to while you run?”
I don’t run with music. And by looking at the other runners in the race, none of them did either.
I think. I think about my breathing. I think about my technique. I think about my hydration and my fuel. I’m doing math in my head about how much I’ve consumed and how far I have to go until I refill. Every now and then I’ll daydream. Sometimes other runners on the course will be chatty so I’ll engage in conversation for a bit, then its back to my breathing and daydreams.
Somewhere around mile 40, my watch died. I failed to set it to “power save mode” before the start of the race, so I knew it was going to die, but did not want to reset it once the race started. So around mile 40 I knew I had 10 miles to go, but from there on out, did not know exactly how far. Anyhow, I thought I was running more than I was. I thought I was nearing the finish, when in actuality, I was just getting to the 45 mile checkpoint! Devastating! With 5 miles to go, I texted Denise (my wife) that I would be in “soon”. Well, I underestimated that. Right after the mile 45 rest stop the route took a dirty, dirty turn headed up this steep hill. It was literally climbing stairs made out of rocks, for 15 minutes. Slow is an understatement. This led to a narrow trail up top filled with rocks and tight turns – again – slow was an understatement. The trail finally opened up around mile 49 and had me running into the finish line where I was greeted by Denise, Blake, and Fitzgerald. The emotion crossing the finish line with your family there is like nothing else. After quick hugs and kisses, I sat down, and literally had to focus on my breathing for the next 20 minutes. Denise and Blake were asking questions and I could only mutter one word answers, having to take multiple breaths before uttering another word. Fortunately, the situation self-resolved after 20 minutes and I was good to go to the athlete recovery tent! Over at the tent, they had foot baths (ice water) and Normatec compression boots. After enjoying both of those, we meandered around for 30 minutes or so before getting in our cars and heading home for the night. We left at around 7pm, and were home by 9pm or so.
The next day I was certainly sore, but my main issue was just general fatigue. I was drinking all coconut water and regular water I could get my hands on, yet urine output was very minimal (TMI?). Food was interesting – I did eat, but I was not hungry. Three days later and my hunger is starting to return to normal.
The biggest thing I’m thankful for – no injuries, and no blisters! The body held up very well to the demands. I credit a few things with this:
CrossFit during the year for building strong, balanced, muscles and bones.
Getting proper fitting shoes and breaking them in early and wearing them for all my training runs
Increased fish oil for the past 3 months
Improved recovery by tracking with Whoop
For those of you that track your steps … my total that day – 102,000 steps!
I know many of you are curious and are thinking “how did you fuel for the race?”
Here’s how I did it:
Before the race, I woke up at 4am and had my daily vitamin and 2 apple sauce squeeze pouches (16g carbs each), so 32g of carbs total as my “pre race meal”. I always run better on an empty stomach.
For during the run, I used the Inov8 running vest, which has 2 500ML (16oz) bottles.
I filled one with water, and the other with 75g of Tailwind (powder carbohydrates with electrolytes and salt)
My goal was to consume both bottles in an hour. So that totals to 32oz water and 75g carbohydrates per hour.
It worked out well that the aid stations were about every hour or so, so I would stop, refill my bottles, and go. At 3 or 4 of the stations I enjoyed half of a Smukers Uncrustable PB&J. Those were a real treat, but I had to be careful to not eat too much and cause GI issues (fortunately I had none during the race!)
If the race took 13 hours we can generally say I consumed around 1,000g of carbohydrates (4,000 calories) not including the PB&Js.
How did I train for the 50 mile race? Probably not how most do it.
^ A strong core will help you acheive better posture when running, especially over a long event
I did purely CrossFit up until late March. Then in late March early April (2 months from race) I started running more and doing CrossFit less. Then come May, it was almost 100% running. With only so many hours to dedicate to exercise in a week without affecting the family and work too much, I had to increase the mileage on my feet which meant reducing CrossFit. If I had more time, I would have absolutely continued CrossFit a few days a week which I think would have helped me climb the hills a little faster.
During April and May, I ran 284 miles. To the non-runners, that probably sounds like a ton of miles! To the other ultra-runners, that is probably low!
My longest run was around 17 miles, and my longest day was 20/21 miles. Notice I did not even run half of the race distance in training.
Here is a quick snapshot of the volume I did and how I did it in “phases” of high volume followed by a deload to allow the body to recover.
What did the Whoop say?
I burned almost 11,000 calories during the race
My resting heart rate at night is usually 40-42. The night after the race it was 54! (Body is working hard to repair and recover)
Average heart rate during the run was 126
I LOVED IT.
I loved the mental and physical challenge. I crave stuff like that. It was a true test of so many things:
Delayed gratification in that you must start training months before the race and really dedicate yourself to the process
Physical endurance capability in pushing how far your body can go
Mental fortitude to keep pushing yourself and not stop
Knowledge and application of nutrition
Knowledge and application of proper running technique
Knowledge of your body and proper work/rest ratios to prevent overtraining
Lastly, sheer will and determination
Owner / Head Coach
Growing up in Simsbury, I started playing ice hockey soon after I started walking. I continued to play up through high school, as well as playing lacrosse and running cross country at Avon Old Farms. In addition, I also played football, raced mountain bikes, skied (then) and snowboard (now). I also enjoy road biking if I have the free time. If it’s athletic, chances are I like it, and have done it. I was first introduced to CrossFit at BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL training) in 2008. I continued to use and benefit from CrossFit training during my time as a US Navy SEAL, with tours to Afghanistan, Africa, and Europe. I am very passionate about CrossFit, and whole heartedly believe everybody can benefit from it. CrossFit will not only get you in better shape, but the effects will translate into your personal and professional life as well, such as learning perseverance, commitment, teamwork, integrity, and community. The pursuit of health and fitness is a lifelong journey, and I have found CrossFit to be the most efficient and streamlined training method.
BS in Health Sciences - George Washington University
CrossFit Level 1 Trainer
CrossFit Aerobic Capacity
Diane Fu Olympic Weightlifting
Special Operations Medic – ATP / EMT / PEPP / ACLS / CPR / AED
My goal is to continually increase my general physical conditioning. I like to be strong while still having an endurance capacity.
Newport Marathon 2015 (3:53)
Ironman 70.3 Syracuse 2017 (6:40)
Ironman 140.6 Lake Placid 2017 (14:14)
The North Face (MA) 50k 2018 (8:28)
The North Face (MA) 50 Mile 2019 (12:57)
Bench Press 325lb